Clare’s Clutter Clearing Story  – Eliman

In 1992 Queen Elizabeth II infamously referred to that year as ‘annus horribilis’ – which means horrible year.

Many of us with clutter discover there are a few years that we could describe that way, and I can directly link one of my ‘annus horribilis’ to triggering a spike in my clutter accumulation.

It was my final year at university. My brother had attempted suicide for the first time just before my exams, and with no emotional support from my family – it was barely even talked about – my response was to start going out to a nightclub most nights with a friend. I suspect I was trying to sabotage myself, to feel heard, to see if anyone – and by that, I mean of course my parents – noticed I wasn’t coping. They didn’t, so my path of self-destruction was unhindered.

On the night of my last exam, I went with a few friends to the nightclub to celebrate. That was the night I met Eliman and my ‘annus horribilis’ really began to escalate. I describe him as a 6ft tall Eddie Murphy, and he worked as a sous-chef in a London hotel. It was the eyes and the smile that got me, and he made me feel as though I was the only girl in the room. It was an intense, exciting relationship that developed fast.

After my exams I was due to go to New Zealand on a 2-month volunteering trip. As I wasn’t working, I was able to meet him after he finished his shifts at the hotel and we visited his friends, or his friends came round to my flat. It seemed odd that we never went to his place, and that we weren’t on our own much, but I ignored that nagging doubt in my gut, telling myself it was just me being paranoid, I should be grateful. He moved in with me after just a few weeks.

When I flew off to New Zealand for my trip he went with me to the airport and called me every morning. I felt very seen, heard, wanted and loved. I felt I could tell him anything, and of course I did. Mistake no.1.

Soon my pattern of feeling emotionally vulnerable and having health issues returned. My lower back got worse, and I decided to fly home to the UK early. If I’m honest, all I wanted was to be with this man who had made me the centre of his world and showed me emotion and affection that I’d never experienced before. Little did I know it was all conditional. I became overly clingy very quickly because I never felt I deserved his attention – classic insecure attachment.

I returned to the UK with no career or life plan and started floundering in the real world, so I distracted myself by focusing on our life together. We booked to go to Senegal that Christmas – he was half Gambian, half Senegalese – even though I still hadn’t been to his flat. I paid for the holiday. Mistake no.2.

Then, as if by coincidence, his UK visa ran out, so he decided to go back to Senegal earlier than planned – 6 weeks earlier – to renew his visa. I then flew out to meet him for our 2-week Christmas holiday together.

At my Graduation Party that my parents had planned for me 3 days before he was due to fly out, to my surprise – and the shock of my parents and family – Eliman proposed in front of everyone. My parents weren’t happy – this was clearly not what they had planned for their graduate daughter. I instantly said yes, despite still knowing very little about this man. I trusted him because I loved him. Mistake number 3.

I flew out to Senegal the week before Christmas 1996, but Eliman hadn’t succeeded in renewing his visa, so I flew home in the New Year alone. The truth was I’d had a miserable trip. I spent most of the holiday alone in our hotel room while he went out all day, every day to try to get his visa sorted. I doubt that this is what he was really doing. He only returned to our room to bring me food or get more money from me for the visa.   This pattern of giving  him money and then him disappearing for hours was a theme throughout our relationship, but I was a classic ‘good girl’. I was so naive.  It’s obvious to me now that he saw me as a cash cow. Even in the 1990‘s there were endless articles in the newspapers of romance scams, and I thought those girls must be stupid. Now I was one of them.

For most of 1997 my life consisted of temping in London as a PA or secretary for six weeks to get together enough money to support us both, and save enough money for a two week visit to Eliman in Senegal. Not quite the ‘normal’ graduate career path.

Every week I sent money to Eliman to support him and pay for a small flat in Senegal because he told me he couldn’t get work. I was spending £50 a week on a phone card to call him from a payphone on the corner of my street. I bought endless souvenirs when Eliman’s brother took me out on the occasional day-trip, while he was off who-knows-where. I took hundreds of photos to ‘prove’ to friends and family back home that I was living the dream and we were madly in love. I even convinced my parents to fund a student visa for him. Thankfully he didn’t get it.

I was miserable, yet I stayed in the relationship for fear of what other people would say, that my parents would tell me ‘We told you so’, and because I genuinely didn’t know what else I was going to do with my life. That is until my last visit in August 1997. A one-week trip where I was abandoned in our flat, alone for 7 consecutive days. I didn’t step a single foot outside.

It was then that something clicked. As the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words, and his actions towards me showed no respect or love. Enough was enough. I decided to leave him for good.

There was just one problem. I needed him to take me from our flat in Dakar, Senegal to the airport in Banjul, Gambia. We always got a taxi, but I didn’t know how to get a taxi, so I was completely dependent on him to get me to the airport and catch that plane home. It was a 7-hour drive, and the deadline for leaving got closer and closer. With 6 hours to go, he finally turned up at the flat as if nothing was wrong.

We travelled in silence and arrived at the airport with minutes to spare. I didn’t kiss him goodbye. As I walked out to the plane on the tarmac I didn’t turn back. Usually, I looked back at the perimeter fence, and he’d be there, smiling and waving to me, blowing kisses, rubbing his eyes as if crying, and clutching his heart. This time I couldn’t look. I knew it was all a lie. As I sat on the plane next to happy holidaymakers, I had never felt so unhappy, alone or unloved.

When I got home, I finally told my lodger the truth and that I’d decided to leave Eliman. She was so pleased because she’d never liked or trusted him. The next morning, we woke up to the news that Princess Diana had died. It was then I vowed to never live my life keeping up appearances, and to find a man who would prove that he loved me through his actions.

When I went to my parents to tell them it was all over, my mother sat in front of me, and as tears rolled down my face, all she could say was ‘What do you want us to tell people?’ It was then that it struck me. In the early days of my life with Eliman he had shown me kindness and compassion that I’d only experienced twice before at that point in my life. He’d made me feel like I mattered to him and that it was safe to be vulnerable with him. Little did I realise that he would take complete advantage of that.

As I grieved a love that never existed, I relived the painful memories over and over again by looking through all the photos I’d taken with every trip and looking at all the souvenirs I’d bought. I decided to see how long it would take Eliman to contact me once I stopped the weekly phone calls and money transfers. It took 2 ½ months. He attempted to send me a fax at 11.30pm on my birthday, full of apologies, excuses and expressions of love and devotion. I pressed stop.

A few weeks later my therapist asked me ‘When was the first time you ignored your gut feeling that told you things weren’t quite right?’. ‘Our first date’ I replied. I felt unbelievably stupid. After my therapy session I walked to Oxford Street and tried to suppress and numb my feelings and emotions the only way I knew how by shopping. And so my clutter grew….

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